Amy works in the hospitality industry. One of the pluses of the industry is that a dynamic young person can rapidly work their way up in the field. She is now managing a cafe for a very trendy coffee outlet and suddenly is responsible for the whole team. Here’s a key issue for her: Can she manage staff performance, including giving negative feedback and still be liked?
Letting go of the need to be liked by your staff is quite a step for a young leader. It’s an odd but comforting paradox – We think we won’t be liked if we give honest feedback, but with staff, if you don’t give clear honest feedback about what needs to be done differently, the staff won’t respect you and therefore won’t like you! Amy is likely to say that she doesn’t have any major problems with her team. The problem is that if she doesn’t communicate clearly about expectations, even over small things, they soon will be major.
The May Harvard Business Review quoted some stimulating research on this titled: Why bossy is better for rookie managers . It shows that it will pay Amy to be assertive for a while – well, ‘assertive’ is my word, the article uses ‘bossy’ for interest’s sake. The research shows that while a collaborative management style is usually best, it is not best for people new to managing.
In terms of the research, as a new leader, Amy could be seen as having low status – because she is young, has less experience, , plus some other factors, including, dare I say, because she is female. Being bossy will establish her as a leader. Stephen Sauer (Assistant Professor, Organisational Studies, Clarkson University) reports on two experiments that both showed that teams with low status ‘directive’ leaders’ performed better than those with low status ‘participative’ leaders.
Although this goes against current wisdom that collaboration is best, look at the situation from the point of view of a team that has acquired the unfamiliar leader. The team looks for clues about the leader’s ability and competence. If the new leader asks for the team input into a decision, this could worry the team because they are unsure if the new leader knows what she is doing. If the team can see that the leader is experienced and knowledgeable, they will prefer to be involved and will do better with a participatory style. Amy needs to build up staff awareness of her ability.
So what should you do if you are in Amy’s position? Carefully assess your team’s perception of you as a leader. If they see you as a low-status leader, be directive for a while, set the goals and expectations. Whilst Kiwis probably don’t like ‘bossy’ in a leader, you certainly should be definite and assertive. Being liked is not an adequate reason for collaboration! Once your confidence and status has risen, then that’s the time to become more collaborative. The shift is to do with creating mutual respect between you and your leader.
What do you think? Bossy first then ease back? Or assertive collaboration? There’s an interesting series of comments on the article online. There also are some some related tips here